In 2015, I got coffee with a friend who had just gotten back to the states from studying art in Italy. Having never been out of the country before, I wanted to hear everything, and as she regaled me with firsthand stories of incredible wine, and pasta, and people, and art, and history, it became painfully apparent that she wasn’t happy to be back home.
I made some wishy-washy ‘you must have really loved it there’ comment, to which she paused and said, “Yeah. In Italy, people care about who you are. They don’t care about what you do.”
I asked for clarification – after all, are the two not inextricably intertwined? Apparently, not everywhere.
“In Italy, art is what I do, but it’s not who I am, and it doesn’t define my worth. In America, art is what I do and what I’m worth.”
Pause with me for a moment and consider, if you would, the first two questions you ask when you meet someone new. If you’re anything like me (or most hustle-culture-entrenched individuals), those two questions are:
What is your name?
What do you do?
My name is Emily, and I’m an editor. Oh, what’s that like? It’s great! I love polishing a piece of copy and sending it off to publication. I love what I do, but what I do is not who I am. I may not always be an editor, but I will always be Emily.
I have days (and I’m sure you do, too) that aren’t as productive as I think they “should” be. Days when my mental health needs to take priority, or days when it just takes longer to get my tasks done, or days when emergencies arise and I have to show up for a friend or family member. And at the end of those days, I always feel guilty for not producing enough, for not being a “good enough” employee.
But if we stop defining our self-worth by what our hands do, by how hard we work and the measurable results we produce – what are we left with?
A lot, actually, and IMO, it’s a shame that we devote more than half of our waking hours to work. No wonder we tend to define ourselves by what we do.
4 Things To Be Proud Of (That Aren’t Your Work Ethic)
Being a good friend/family member. Don’t let work take precedence over those you love. Take the time to show up to your child’s games and recitals. Say “yes” to the friend who’s been asking you to get brunch for forever. Invite a friend to join your family for dinner one night. Be proud of the ways in which you can connect with those around you, the peace you can bring each other in an otherwise chaotic life.
Contributing to your community. Do you know your neighbors? No? Friend, it’s time to change that. Make a loaf of bread and gift it to a neighbor. If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, take the time to organize a community cleanup – or, if you have the space, you could even start a community garden. Doing things with your neighbors to positively contribute to the community and your collective environment is a HUGE thing to be proud of.
Non-work-related talents. Are you a fabulous musician who happens to work an office job? Be proud of your music! Maybe you’re an incredible knitter and need to give yourself permission to show off your creations. With so much of our lives wrapped up in work, it can be hard to figure out what you’re passionate about outside of your job. Take the time to figure that out, and let yourself be proud of it!
Showing up for yourself. Last, but certainly not least, let yourself be proud when you take care of yourself. You are your first priority, always. Forego the late night of overtime and take a bath, snuggle up with your S.O. and watch a movie. Turn off work notifications on Saturdays and spend time with friends and family, doing activities that energize and rejuvenate you. I promise, you won’t regret it.
How do you take time for yourself away from work? Share with us in the comments!
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